By Christopher Mosley
Just when I thought last weekend’s Index Fest might have been all the sensory overload I could handle for a while, two vastly different shows in the following days proved I still had not seen it all: David Byrne and St. Vincent on Sunday, followed by DJ Rashad at The Crown and Harp on Tuesday.
First off was the David Byrne and St. Vincent show at McFarlin Auditorium, which has become one of my favorite rooms in Dallas and there was a time when that might have been unthinkable. Even Morrissey’s somewhat clunky show late last year still sounded great in that space, though Morrissey’s right even when he’s wrong. There just have not been enough acts who would play there that I would care to see, but sometimes the booking is surprisingly vital.
I’m a little conflicted on both David Byrne and Annie Clark. Byrne’s post-Talking Heads career has peaked and valleyed with him sometimes coming off like a poor man’s punk rock Paul Simon, in that he has appropriated elements of world music with his uptight nerd quirk schtick. Sometimes the result is an ethnomusicology project gone awry, each element sticking out as a garish signifier of how multiculturally aware Byrne is. New Wave Imperialist? He was not alone on that one, however, and his reissue effort of international classics, lost and otherwise, turned out some truly earth-moving work on his own Luaka Bop label. He may have single-handedly brought Os Mutantes into the consciousness of young baristas all over the United States, and that’s a very admirable accomplishment.
These opinions have been formed over one of the most tired backyard barbecue arguments any group of music fans can have, “Are the Talking Heads Overrated?,” and just when I think I’m being a little hard on Byrne, I find this, written by the man himself, on the one-sheet for the duo’s brass-heavy approach on their recently released record, Love This Giant:
I found that writing words to this brass-centric sound meant I had to re-think my lyrical approach. Brass has many associations—marching bands, Italian banda, New Orleans bands, classical chorales, RnB and funk.
Slow down, Mr. Byrne. You aren’t in an “Italian banda,” you’re a pop rocker making a record with another pop rocker (though a classically trained pop rocker) with horns. It’s not a huge deal and it’s been happening for quite some time in the music business.
Now, all apprehension aside with the descriptions and lofty associations, Byrne and Clark put on a highly entertaining spectacle, one with substance and one that left me wondering how much time and effort must have been spent on the choreography, the lighting, and the overwhelming amount of coordination it takes to pull off such a complete concept. There wasn’t even an opener to take the edge off.
At times the two came off like a classic lounge duo, when they would venture out to the stage’s somewhat shallow apron, and really engage with the audience. Byrne was happy to let Clark take all the attention when necessary, at one point even laying on the floor, with the rest of the brass section taking his lead.
Clark is an obvious virtuoso, but her sound is diluted with an overabundance of effects. When Byrne prowls the stage just banging and scratching on a pale Stratocaster, he cuts through both the horns and Clark’s saturated sound with an unadorned tone. Clark’s movements are the opposite of the classic rock and roll wide leg stance; she tip-toes with the tiniest and quickest little steps while playing an often tremendous, yet calculated racket. Despite how wonderfully natural a brass band sounds at McFarlin, some of the best moments were the artificial ones; Clark keeping up with an intricate rhythm on a drum machine pad sounded more unique than a lot of the stuttering horn patterns.
One of the most impressive moments of the evening came when Byrne introduced each backing musician one by one, and went through the trouble of naming all of their side-projects, or initial projects—perhaps he is the side project for them. He called the merchandise table a “veritable Wal-Mart” or Sam’s Club, creating no illusions that he was trying to help peddle for his dedicated band. If you’re at all familiar with how a tiny three-piece DIY act might not exactly support the extracurricular habits of all of its members, this was a kind and selfless moment to witness. I came away with an appreciation for Byrne I didn’t have before the show, and I tossed the notepad altogether when he played “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).”
Two days later I’m in a wildly different scene than the politely sweater-wrapped crowd leaving the SMU campus. I walk in very late to see proud Chicago resident DJ Rashad putting on a wonderfully abrasive last-minute set of juke music at Crown and Harp, a genre that has existed for years but has really taken off in 2012, especially with the media.
I would say it was a set of juke and footwork music, but another Chicago resident informed me this week that “only white people call juke music footwork.” Heaven forbid! Footwork refers to both the music, which is slightly different from juke, and the incredibly frantic dancing that accompanies it. There were probably other genres as well once the beat changed completely, but I’m not looking to debate purists today. Rashad is perhaps the most iconic artist creating juke music and his debut album, Teklife Vol. 1: Welcome to the Chi, was released this past summer and is considered an early masterpiece of juke.
Rashad explained the difference between the two relatively young genres in an interview on journalist Emma Warren’s blog:
Can you break it down for us. What’s the difference between juke and footwork?
Juke is the music but footwork is the music and the dance. I was doing footwork from the beginning, but due to going out of town, people weren’t familiar with the one-clap, so we had to remake top 40 tunes, juke ‘em out. [Kanye West’s] Flashing Lights or something we juked it out so people that were familiar with that song could get familiar with our songs, and get ‘em interested.
Besides the obvious explosiveness of juke, Rashad makes a profound statement here explaining the music’s appeal. Though the show on Sunday and the show on Tuesday could not be more different for multiple reasons, this takes it a step further. By taking American top 40 music, something to which we are overly exposed, and repurposing it, juke takes this overabundant resource and makes it difficult and bizarre.It’s irresistible to anyone trying to remain stoic or still in a packed crowd, though I was made fun of for doing just that. The show was only announced the night before, and yet the Crown and Harp was full and lively on a Tuesday. But it was full of people who knew exactly why what they were seeing was so special. Hopefully next time there is more of a warning, so everyone else can come too.